29: Prioritize or Die

Prioritization might be the most important and most difficult thing in running a SaaS company. Aaron and Darren explore the challenges they have with how to prioritize and how it relates to what they are doing right now.

[INTRO music]

0:00:10.5 Aaron Weiche: Episode 29, Prioritize or Die.

0:00:16.2 Intro: Welcome to the SaaS Venture Podcast, sharing the adventure of leading and growing a bootstrapped SaaS company. Hear the experiences, challenges, wins and losses shared in each episode from Aaron Weiche of Leadferno and Darren Shaw of Whitespark. Let's go.


0:00:42.5 AW: Welcome to the SaaS Venture Podcast. I'm Aaron.

0:00:46.0 Darren Shaw: And I'm Darren.

0:00:48.0 AW: Did you see what I did with that clickbait title of our episode today, Darren?

0:00:52.9 DS: I did actually. I wrote something different, but yours is way better, yeah, that's good. [chuckle]

0:00:56.8 AW: I think I was mostly trying to avoid, right? You had wrote prioritization and I was like, that just sounds like a word that I will somehow mangle when we go to hit record, and then yeah, I just went all-out sensationalism and clickbait and...

0:01:12.2 DS: And I actually think, not only is it clickbait-y, which is great, but it also was accurate. I think that it's really the theme of this episode.

0:01:20.9 AW: Yeah, and it's not... As we get into it, it's not an instant death, it's just probably a slow death if...

0:01:28.8 DS: Absolutely.

0:01:29.8 AW: You don't adhere to it. And yeah, I'm super excited to get into that. But it's been five weeks since we've last recorded, and we caught up a little bit before hitting record. Sometimes I think we should just hit record the second we get on and let people hear all of our small talk, and then maybe wrap that into the after show. We usually have really big... We just had some really big ideas. We'll see if we can put those into play someday. But...

0:01:57.2 DS: Yeah.

0:02:01.7 AW: What has been consuming your time this last handful of weeks?

0:02:07.0 DS: I've been busy with the summit. Just, I've been on lots of calls with the team, planning our software, and lots of summit stuff. So just trying to get all work...

0:02:19.3 AW: So you're talking about, for those that don't always listen to us, you put on a local search summit, virtual last year, it was your very first one.

0:02:29.2 DS: Yeah.

0:02:29.3 AW: Remind me again, how many speakers... I know the attendee number was super high. Like frame up how the very first one went.

0:02:36.8 DS: So our Whitespark Local Search Summit, the first one we did last year, a virtual summit, it's free to attend, pay if you want the recordings, and we had 6,000 registered... People registered for the event. We...

0:02:56.7 AW: That's so awesome.

0:02:56.8 DS: It was huge, yeah. So I was a little bit shocked with how well we did. We had 32 speakers, I think, a three-day event. And so it's a lot of work to put it together. So this year, I'm really excited about how things are shaping up. Our line-up is phenomenal. We've got incredible speakers like Aaron Weiche speaking. [laughter] So it's gonna be fantastic. I can't wait for it. We really put a lot of polish on it this year. I gotta give a shoutout to Jesse Lowe on our marketing team, she is our marketing team, and she...

0:03:29.8 AW: Go Jesse.

0:03:33.2 DS: She's done such an incredible job with the design, and we're building our website now and our sponsor deck, and just everything is just getting really nicely tweaked and polished, and it's gonna be an incredible event, and I think that we're shooting for 8,000 registrations this year, but it really feels like that level of conference quality that you might see at a Moss Con, I feel like we're hitting our stride with it this year and really kinda taken it to that next level. So been really busy with that, trying to get that stuff working out.

0:04:03.5 AW: That's just so incredible, like when you say those numbers. I remember that attendees were in the thousands, but again, first-time event, you pull it off during a pandemic.

0:04:15.1 DS: Yeah. [chuckle]

0:04:16.1 AW: Some of it probably helpful 'cause people were just so hungry for good information, good interaction. I remember, I super enjoyed... So many of the speakers are like friends and people that we see on the conference circuit that you get to see in person and have a beer with or grab dinner with, and it was just like... It was just great to hear David Mihm present. It was just great to hear people that you're used to that are smart and have something different in your day than Zoom calls with your internal team. [chuckle] So...

0:04:50.1 DS: Yeah.

0:04:51.3 AW: Those are some lofty goals, man. 8,000, that's awesome. I can't wait.

0:04:54.3 DS: I'm a little bit worried that instead of increasing our registration count, we might drop, and one of the concerns I have is just virtual conference burnout. It's like we kinda hit it and at a sweet spot last time around, whereas it's been a full year, and I don't know, my inbox is blowing up with virtual conference invites all the time, and so I just wonder if people are a little bit burnt out from it, but we'll see.

0:05:20.4 AW: Yeah, could be, but I would say in the local space, other than local you, nothing else comes close to the level of content that you put into that event. So I think no matter what, even if you stay the same, even if you're a little bit lower, like you've put something great in motion that I can't wait for it to be like an in-person, just imagine like... Imagine if you're able to pull off a 1000-person in-person conference event in local, that would be nuts.

0:05:54.7 DS: While we plan to do it, I actually have already looked into doing the conference at the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta, and so one day we're gonna go to... It's like castle in the mountains, in the rocky mountains, it's so beautiful. I wanna do it there. I've looked into pricing. I would have done it if I felt confident that by 2022, we wouldn't have weird COVID variants locking us down again, but their cancellation policy is like, "You gotta sign that contract, and if you back out, you lose 75 grand." So it was like, "Okay, I can't commit." But 2023, I feel like we're gonna do it. We're gonna do it in the mountains, it's gonna be great.

0:06:35.1 AW: Oh my gosh, that sounds epic to say the least.

0:06:39.1 DS: Yeah. I want that to happen.

0:06:45.3 AW: On my side of things, you and I talked during this as friends, and then professionally on a couple of things, but I had a hard two, three weeks of being able to focus on work, which is really strange for me because I'm definitely a workaholic, work is a hobby, I just love being immersed, but the short of it is, my mom has Lewy body dementia, and it's gotten to the point where she can't live on her own, and so we had to transition her into assisted living, and the combination of visiting facilities and finding the right one for her and organizing everything that goes into a transfer like that and to some of the medical things and records and application and process, and then she was living in a town home that we owned, so cleaning that out, and then my wife and I decided to sell the town home as well, with my mom moving out of it, we just felt like the timing was right, and real estate market's great.

0:07:46.3 AW: So it was really hard. I'm normally like a lot of hours, 50, 60 hours easily of high-output work, I was probably more in the 30-hour range and having a hard time focusing 'cause of these bigger things, and it was really hard on me for a little bit because I'm just so not used to it. It was just jarring off of my normal schedule and what I usually put myself into and everything else.

So it's nice to be on the other side of that now and feel Mom has moved and settling in and that's a really... That's a good situation for her and everything else, and the town home was sold and closed and that's wrapped up, and so we're not spending nights and weekends over there getting it ready to sell and that whole process. So it's definitely threw me for a loop that when I was in it, I definitely felt like I was just like kind of treading water, if not drowning and looking around, like, "What direction do I go here? This feels awful weird."

0:08:49.4 DS: Oh man, I'm so sorry. It's gotta be... It must have been really tough, must continue to be really tough for you with your mom, so I'm really sorry to hear that.

0:09:00.0 AW: Yeah, no, I appreciate it. You and I, we had some personal conversations that were helpful, easy outlet for me to talk through some of those things. But yeah, it's just... The reverse parenting and the things that go along with that is you enter the next stage of life. It's definitely interesting, and yeah, it can be overwhelming and... I don't know. I guess I just wanted to share that for those of you running a company, starting something, all those things are hard enough, and that's not even throwing in what real life throws at you [chuckle] sometimes, and when you're an entrepreneur, you just live so much of your life in the business, and it can get hectic. So know if it's getting hectic for you, you're not alone, and hopefully you find the right people to talk to and the right ways to sort through it, and you get to the other side of that moment.

0:09:51.9 DS: Yeah, for sure. We all have the things that come up that we... We try to run a business, but life interrupts often. Yeah.

0:10:00.9 AW: On the plus side of life, I'm fully vaxxed, that says of like three and a half, four weeks ago, so I've had weeks now to live as a vaccinated person. I booked a flight just two days ago. I felt like such a noob going into my Delta app and like, "Oh, how do you book a flight?" I had completely forgotten. And booking a hotel, all of it just felt... I felt like I was making these huge purchases on something literally... I used to probably do 30 to 40 flights a year, something that I used to do a lot.

I probably illegally was booking flights while driving somewhere. It was just that common of a repeated process. And then I actually bought tickets to SaaStr. They're doing in-person in September. They said you have to be vaccinated. I think almost the entire conference is outdoors. They're using a big outdoor facility out in California  ____.

0:11:00.6 DS: Oh wow.

0:11:01.0 AW: So I'm really interested to check that out and see that and looking forward to it. I think my wife Marcy is... I saw the glee in her eyes when I said I was booking travel. She was like, "Yes, I could use some alone time in the house. This sounds great." [chuckle] Yeah, she's very encouraging. She's like, "That sounds wonderful. Is it tomorrow?" "No, babe. You gotta wait a couple of weeks."

0:11:28.7 DS: Wow, that's a huge move. Booking travel. We're a couple of months behind you in Canada with our vaccination rollout, and so this is beyond my comprehension at this point. But yeah, I look forward to one day booking travel [chuckle] hopefully in the not too distant future.

0:11:46.5 AW: You will get there soon. When it happens, if you just need a field trip, come on down to Minneapolis and let's hang out for a couple of days.

0:11:53.3 DS: Oh my... I should just make that... I should book it right now, yeah.

0:11:57.6 AW: Done. Sounds like a plan.

0:12:00.1 DS: Yeah, I would love to, would love to.

0:12:00.8 AW: Yeah.

0:12:02.1 DS: What's happening with... I remember last time we talked, you had your Flutter main developer leaving. How's that sorting out?

0:12:09.9 AW: Oh man, that has been a struggle. So we engaged both our initial recruiter that's helped us build our team, and then we went through Toptal.

0:12:23.4 DS: Oh yeah.

0:12:24.7 AW: And I would just say that really the biggest challenge is Flutter is really two to three-year-old as far as being still not mainstream, but just on the map. So the pool of candidates is just super small. So my experience with Toptal, to cut to the chase, we did hire someone, it wasn't through Toptal, we probably had four or five interviews through Toptal, one we interviewed and felt like they weren't the right fit for our project, the next candidate, we interviewed literally an hour after we interview them, we found out they took another job, another project to work on, then they sent us one that was like twice the hourly rate that was in our budget, so that was a non-starter, then we interviewed another one, liked him.

Toptal does... They basically put them with you on the project for five days as like a free trial, and then after day one, he backed off the project. He didn't like the... He basically said, "I should've asked a few more questions." He didn't like the state management that we were using with it and felt like he wasn't gonna be a good fit for that, which was great that he didn't waste any more time, but it totally felt like a back-to-the-drawing-board.

0:13:50.2 AW: And so we also had a couple of interviews with our original company that was recruiting for us, and we ended up, one of the two candidates they sourced for us, got to move forward with him, and he just started part-time this week. So that process took us five to six weeks to completely reset, which where we're at in timing right now and trying to get to launch, that feels like we lost an eternity, losing two to three sprints.

0:14:20.8 DS: Sure.

0:14:21.2 AW: But all you can do is be happy now. The one little plus is he does have some Node JS, which is our backend, so he might be a little bit full stack for us, which is interesting. So far we kinda have two frontend, two backend.

0:14:35.8 DS: Yeah.

0:14:38.3 AW: So that wild card might be nice with it. So it's taken a while. It wasn't ideal. Some of it's no fault of anyone, it's just kind of a... I think Flutter is starting to grow, so those that have talent and experience there are in high demand, especially when we are looking for someone that had at least a year experience within Flutter, not looking to learn it with us.

0:15:05.6 DS: Do you... Okay, now that you've been through this process, do you have any regrets about choosing Flutter as a less mature language that maybe doesn't have the same pool of candidates that other languages have?

0:15:19.2 AW: No, because the whole reason we selected it is because we knew we were gonna do mobile apps as well. And so really my only regret will be, is if that process isn't as smooth for us to kick out our mobile apps. We're gonna launch with just our web app, and then fast follow with the mobile apps. So I just look at it... We knew that there would be some pieces of immaturity in libraries with Flutter and things like that, and we've kind of crossed a few of those bridges, but I'm still really hopeful that the main reason we decided why was to only work on one code base, per se, to deliver the frontend in web and native app experiences. So from that side, I still feel good. If that falls flat, then I'll be super frustrated that we should have used React and React Native, something more tried and true.

0:16:13.8 DS: Yeah, yeah. Well we'll see. I guess we'll talk about in a future podcast, how your mobile app development is proceeding.


0:16:22.7 AW: There you go. Hopefully, it'll probably be a couple of episodes from now, but yeah, I can't wait. I'm excited to get to that part of things.

0:16:30.2 DS: Yeah for sure. Yeah. Alright. What else is going on? How are things at Leadferno, I guess, now that you've got your development back on track?

0:16:40.7 AW: Yeah, progressing well, it's just with anything, never fast enough.

0:16:47.6 DS: Yeah.

0:16:50.5 AW: But... And I think this probably serves as a good crossover with us to start talking because, prioritization, because that's really where we're at right now, is like we kinda internally set four months ago, like end of June, we're recording this right now on June 11th, it'll come out next week, but we said end of June is when we wanted to go live, and I can see from where we're at right now, it's gonna take us another sprint or two, just testing, clean up some of those things. But even when we launch then, it's still not gonna be perfect. So there's definitely like, launch is our priority right now, but then there's a couple of priorities that I have to answer to inside of that launch, that, which one's most important? Is it time? Or is it features? And I have some conundrum within that, on which one to place first, and I think I've arrived somewhere, which is good, 'cause you do need to make some decisions on these things [chuckle] and not waffle on them. But that's been hard.

0:18:00.5 DS: It's exactly what I'm dealing with too, with our stuff that we're working on at Whitespark. I could build my grand vision over the course of the next year or build it into phases, so we have multiple launches. And so our goal is definitely to get to these multiple launches. So we have our phase one, phase two, phase three, and then once we get phase six wrapped up, then that's the grand vision of what I wanna build. So that prioritization, what goes into phase one, what... Do you move to phase two? Is what we had planned for phase three more important to put for phase two? That's all the stuff that I'm debating right now.

0:18:46.0 AW: Yeah well and, as you and I have discussed off-recording, I think you were wrangling for a long time with how do you fit this in or how do you prioritize this next thing with what you're doing, right? And you have tools and services that you sell right now, and how do you balance not only supporting those, but do you continue to improve and mature those. At the same time, what I heard from you is just like the next thing that you're building being so important to you, right? Like no matter what we were talking about, your answer would turn to platform really being the answer to other things that we were trying to solve or discuss or whatever else, and it became apparent to me, and then I think apparent to you, platform needs to be the prioritization, right?

0:19:43.4 DS: It really does, and one of the things it's like, your title Prioritize or Die, and you mentioned it's a slow process, and it is. It's really like death of a company by 1,000 cuts. It's one little thing after another, and we've been up against that for, I don't know, five, 10 years. We're just constantly... Before we can progress on this, we gotta finish that one last thing, or we gotta do this little thing, or we have to update our crawling architecture, or we gotta change our mailing application.

0:20:17.7 DS: It's just like... Because we're already a mature company with a customer base to support and software to keep running, it's really hard to build that next generation of our product, and it's something that, it's really become clear that if I don't turn everything off, we won't ever get there. Or it'll just take us another three years to get there, and so this prioritization has really hit home with me, and it's like we're putting everything on ice. If it's not mission critical, we don't do it.

0:21:00.0 DS: So if it... We're putting all resources towards building platform, which is the next generation of Whitespark products, and so I have to do it, otherwise, it won't happen, and so... And if it doesn't happen, we will continue to be a profitable successful company, but we won't have that growth. That thing that... That catapult into the two times, three times, five times growth that I wanna see happen for Whitespark. The potential is there, and it's like, I'm always looking at it. It's this sort of future thing. It needs to stop being a future thing, and it needs to be a now thing and that we're building it right now.

0:21:40.3 AW: Yeah. No... One, I fully support that, and I totally agree with your statement. You won't reach your potential, right? You have these ideas, you know these things, you have so much experience in the space. You know what needs to be delivered, and if you keep hopping around with the other things that you have right now and trying to forward those at the same time of creating this ultimate idea, like you just can't... You can't split pairs that many ways and still have something yet left to do something with.

0:22:19.1 AW: I think you put it... You put it perfectly in our pre-show notes when you just wrote, "It's okay to put other things on hold."

0:22:28.9 DS: Right, yeah.

0:22:29.0 AW: But we had some conversations, but I'd love to hear or maybe you sharing a little bit, like what happened in between some of our conversations where you're thinking about this internally and going through the... How uncomfortable at first, and how did you get yourself more comfortable with, it's okay to put things on hold and pursue this big idea that feels... This feels like what I need to do, but then it's much different to say you're going to do it and then put that in action to just do it.

0:23:02.8 DS: Yeah. So I would say there was two things that happened. One, you and I talked about this platform stuff and you had pushed for... You'd be like, "Man, Darren you should really... You really... You need to start putting other things on hold and focus on platform." and so that seed was planted, and then... So I've always been faced with well, we'll get to that when we finish this thing. We'll get to platform when we finished this next thing, and the thing that was lined up was something that I think I've mentioned on the podcast before, but we have a new feature that we're integrating into our local citation finder that does a deep audit and a stand-alone tool, which we're calling Scanarator.

0:23:46.4 DS: So this thing was built by one of our developers who we brought in-house, but he was a freelancer working on the side, and I wanted to do the side project, but I didn't wanna distract my team from... So he built this thing. And it's great, it works really well, but now that we're at this phase where we're actually integrating it into our stack, it became clear that we couldn't do it because he built it in his own weird framework-y thing, and so it's like, "Well, we're getting close to launching this thing, it's all functional, but when it comes to integrating it, we're gonna have to re-write it in our stack." and I was like, "What?" This is gonna take us like another month, maybe two, and then it was Click!

0:24:30.4 DS: This light bulb went off. I'd be like, what is that gonna give us? Is it gonna increase our MRR by a $1,000 a month? Maybe. Maybe it's not gonna give us that much more. It's like I keep pushing on all of these things that will definitely improve our software, but that's not gonna two times our company. It's just gonna keep us floating along. It's going to keep us staying the course. If I put that on ice, it doesn't hurt us. We've already raised our prices for the local citation finder.

0:25:04.0 AW: So great, we're putting it on ice. We're not integrating that functionality until we can integrate it into platform, and so that was like... You planted the seed. I saw that exact situation occurring again, where I'm like, "My God, I'm not gonna delay platform by another two months." Forget it. We're putting everything on ice, we're focusing on platform, and that absolutely... I feel so good about that decision, and I know that that's gonna get us to where we need to go. And it's like... I don't know why it took me so long to have that shift of perception, 'cause it's really easy to just keep building on what you already have rather than going after the big prize.

0:25:44.5 AW: Yeah. Well, it's probably a couple things. One, we all have different levels of risk aversion, and especially the larger you grow your company, you're responsible for more people, you're responsible for more customers. I think part of your success, Darren, is what I see in you is, you are so wired to not only please but exceed what people get from you. It's in all of the content you share, the presentations you give. You just give so much, and so I think when you look at this, I think it's been hard for you to wrangle with something, be like, "I'm just gonna let it be good enough for a while, instead of constantly pushing on it to be great, even though its ceiling just isn't the ultimate ceiling, right?

0:26:30.5 AW: And that's where getting this transfer of energy put into something that has a very high ceiling, but it's also gonna be hard. There's risk involved in it, and it's risky when you take yourself away from the same track that you've been on on trying to deliver greatness with what you do have out there and just being okay with it being the same for a while, while you put all your focus into one thing.

0:26:58.1 DS: Yeah. The to-do list don't stop. Like all of our existing software products, they each have a list of 100 things that I wanna do for them, and then what ends up happening is I end up on all these client calls. So I'm on a sales call, or a customer support thing comes up, and so there's all these polls happening, like a customer... A lead wants this thing, and then your brain goes to like, "Well, if we built that thing, it would serve all of our customers and we could sell more and it would be great." But those are actually distractions, in my personal case, from the bigger prize, and I realize that I have to focus our attention on a bigger price and say, "Well, that's a cool feature, let's do it when we have the main thing that we wanna build it into done."

0:27:49.3 AW: One of the things that I've done at multiple past companies, just because the same things you're talking about, like that happens everywhere in business for all of us, and I think the truly great leaders are the ones that find the time and find the ways to separate themselves from the business of doing in the constant motion, and boil it down to what is my one most important thing right now, and am I doing enough for that? Because if that doesn't happen, all of the other things usually pale in comparison, right?

0:28:22.0 AW: And I would try to do this from time to time, whether it was monthly or bi-monthly or even quarterly with my management team and just have a meeting in one of our normal exec team cycles or whatever, but say like, what's the one thing you need to get done right now and does it have a blocker, do you need support, do you need resources? And really make them think on that. 'Cause it was real easy for every run to report on, here's my laundry list of things that I need to do, that all need attention, meetings, calls, whatever. We all have that, but the truly great ones find a way to like... That's fine.

That's still all gonna be there if I step away from it or put it on ice or delegate or whatever else. But if I don't do this thing... At some point, the business will pay a price in one way or another. If it truly is important enough to be prioritized, it's something that will cost you if you don't take action on it.

0:29:21.2 DS: Right. Basically, it's the exact same concept of that book, Eat That Frog. I think it's called Eat that Frog, and so it's like, you start your day, what is the absolute... You just... I know you've got a list of 100 things, but what's the one thing? Eat that thing in the morning. Do that thing first thing before you do anything else, and It'll set you up for success for the whole day. That same concept can be applied with a greater scale at your company level. What is the frog? What is the one thing that you must focus on to move your company forward?

0:29:54.8 AW: I don't think I'm gonna remember right now 'cause I consume way too many SaaS and leader type podcasts, but one of the ones this past week I was listening to, the guy was talking... He literally puts his most important thing on a post-it note and it's on his bathroom mirror. So he sees it like every morning. So even if it's the most important thing for weeks at a time, he comes face-to-face with it every morning. There's no way he sees it in writing, and I just... So basic, but yet, just this gentle reminder in your mindset that, "Hey, it's great whatever I do today, but if I don't contribute to this one thing, I'm not putting my valuable time into the most valuable thing on my docket at the moment." That was really, really interesting.

0:30:41.3 DS: Although it's hard because if you ask me right now, what is my personal one thing, whoa! I got three of them. I don't know. I got three of them. I got the summit, I got my videos I gotta make, and I got platform, right? So I have to move all of those things forward.

0:31:01.6 AW: Yeah. And that's not to say that doesn't happen, but at the end of the day, if someone made you strip down to one, it wouldn't be the summit and it wouldn't be your videos.

0:31:08.9 DS: No. But I... That... You know what happens though, I would let down a lot of people by having prioritized, and I think that's where the struggle is. It's like I got all these different pulls for my attention and my input, and my input has... Everyone wants it, and so it's really tough when, as your company grows. 'Cause if I didn't do my videos and I didn't do the summit stuff then that would just fall apart.

0:31:37.9 AW: Yeah. Saying no is hard.

0:31:39.4 DS: Saying no is hard.

0:31:39.5 AW: Saying no is really, really hard. It took me a long time to... Especially... I've spent so much of my career on the sales and marketing side of running companies, and it used to be like saying no to bad deals when you're young and hungry and trying to grow, and you just take anything on, even though there's something in your gut that's like, "Oh! This... The communication doesn't feel right, the expectations don't feel right, but I just wanna get this deal. The money is good." whatever else, and then you get into it and you're like, "Oh, I would pay money not to have this deal right now." It is so the wrong the deal.

0:32:15.9 DS: Yeah. I got a few of those in my closet, for sure.

0:32:18.6 AW: Yeah. I actually... I think more than ever at GatherUp, I got really good at being able to say no to those. Where I was just like, that's not who we need to help us grow. Like that... One way or another, and it was really agency life is where I learned how hard... Having a bad client in SaaS Life isn't great, but it's not... Agency life, that bad client could just put your entire company on fire for no good reason and...

0:32:51.1 DS: Sure yeah.

0:32:51.5 AW: I don't miss that at all...

0:32:51.9 DS: So much time. Yeah.

0:32:54.5 AW: 'Cause it's just all service delivery, and when service delivery things go wrong, your only option is to throw more people at it, and that just... There isn't always bandwidth to throw more people at it, and then that upsets the other things you're working on. Like, "Oh, man... "

0:33:07.5 DS: Yeah. Yeah. It's tough.

0:33:09.8 AW: It totally is. Well, I applaud the moves you're making, and I just flat out think prioritization is the hardest thing in running a business. I think it is the most challenging thing that's there, and something that... I just always have so much work to do, sometimes I feel like I see things really clearly, and other times I fight all of those same battles with what's exciting and what's new and getting distracted, and I don't know. I've just... I've tried over time to just figure out as many things as I can to... How do I boil it down to answer to one thing instead of so many the buts and the what ifs and all of that.

0:33:55.8 AW: That's always there in every conversation that you can have with yourself, but a lot of times when I analyze, I just have to look at... And that's where I'm at right now. My priority is launch.

0:34:09.6 DS: That is obvious.

0:34:10.5 AW: Yeah, I have 30 to 45 days at most, and I'm putting this on recording, I cannot go a day outside of July without launching. It's not gonna happen. The hard part, my what-ifs and buts are... There's one bigger differentiating feature that might get cut off and not delivered at launch, and that super pains me as someone who's a product... I don't wanna use the word perfectionist, but I demand and expect a lot out of our tool, and I know things I wanna build for years, and if I'm launching without something that has always been in my V1 and something that I feel like is a differentiator and I'm gonna have to wait another sprint or two sprints after launching, that just feels like such a like... I've almost said to others on the team, I don't know if this is a great way to do, but I'm just like... It's almost like parenting.

I'm just like, don't make me have to decide this. Somehow pull this off, save the day. Let's get this feature included in what we're doing up until this time frame, but I don't wanna launch without the... And if it's super apparent to me that we're not even gonna be able to get it, then I'm gonna launch even earlier because I'd rather launch in early July, knowing I'm gonna be without this no matter what, then holding it even further.

0:35:43.2 DS: I think one thing you should try to keep in mind is that you're gonna have a significant potential customer base that doesn't care about that feature. They want the core functionality, they're gonna get that out of the gate, and then by putting all of these things into additional sprints, every time you launch a nice new feature, that's another marketing push, it's another chance to reach out to your existing customers, provide more value to them and do a broader marketing push saying, "Hey, we now do this thing, we now do this thing" and so I actually came that realization with our rank tracker product. We were building the whole thing from the ground up, and then my dev team lead pulled me back and says like, "No, those features... Yes, we want them for launch, it'd be great if they were there for launch, but it actually can be a benefit to launch them after 'cause you get that additional marketing engine running for every new cool thing that you're putting up.

0:36:40.1 AW: Yeah, I think the biggest thing that I struggle with is just first impressions, and especially when you launch, you do get the love when you launch, right? It's like... At least for me at this point, I have a good network of colleagues and friends and professional contacts, like I'll be able to get social posts that get some good sharing to them and figure out some other distribution things and I just fear. It was the same in running GatherUp for six years, there's so many times where I'd talk to somebody, it's like, "Oh well, I looked at you guys early on, and it was just immature and missing so many things and whatever else," and then they don't pay attention to all the incremental steps you're making all the time and then you're just waiting, you need something to grab them to bring them back to get them to say, "Oh, I should take another look because they probably have a lot more understanding." They have a lot more or whatever else, but whatever turned me off to begin with, they almost hold that to you forever, their first impression was, say... And this won't be the case with Leadferno, I've gotten enough feedback that the interface is beautiful and easy to use and everything, so I'm not worried about that.

0:37:54.5 AW: But say that was the case and he was like, "Oh," it just looks Junkie. It felt wrong. I couldn't figure out where to go. It wasn't intuitive at all. That person might never, ever consider you again because they just look at like, that company is not gonna fix that, or why would they fix that, right? 

0:38:11.3 DS: Sure. Yeah.

0:38:12.5 AW: And those are the things that I stress about, and this feature that I have to decide against is like... It is a differentiator, and it's just one of those things too, you might be like, Aaron, why do you have a differentiator that's on the line at the end, but it's like there's just so many things to build in the product, like something... For one reason, another... And in some of the steps we had to build, it just had to be in that place, and so it's like I'm just worried where... It's not gonna make or break us. But if I could get 20 or 30 people or 40 people to sign up those first few weeks as paying customers, and that's the reason why, or that's what keeps them as opposed to it doesn't, the guarantee on getting them to come take a look again when I message them two weeks or four weeks or six weeks later and be like, "Don't worry, it's here." I might not even know who they were. You know what I mean? It just won't...

0:39:08.3 DS: I hear what you're saying with a brand new product launch, you're coming out of gates, no one really knows you, that first impression is kind of important, there is an MVP, that's just two minimum. You shouldn't be so minimum, that attention you get with the launch is wasted, right? I hear your perspective there, and now it does raise the question, what is... Let's say you decide, okay, we can't do it, we can't launch without this feature, is it worth pushing back the launch by another three weeks like this is what you're grappling with, right? 

0:39:44.2 AW: Yeah, and I already feel like I'm right. Our internal goal was end of June, and so I've already come to grips with, it's gonna take another sprint and possibly two sprints, but that's where I say... Then I start hitting the point of like, "What's not to keep allowing yourself to keep saying like, Oh, just another sprint and another," right? And next thing it's October and I still don't have a damn product out and it's like... So I've drawn in the line of sand, no matter what, if we hit mid-June and we were hopeful we could get it in whatever, then I'll just say "No, all we're doing is prep in the next five days to launch." That's just what we're doing because I don't wanna work...

0:40:24.1 AW: We have enough of the product there. I don't wanna work any further in the dark without people's opinion with money on the line, it's like pilot customers and doing demos and people wanting to learn it, all of that's great. But it's not the same as when they're saying yes or no with $150 or $200 a month behind their name. That's a much different piece of feedback, and I wanna get to that 'cause I want people to either be like, "Yes, and here's what I'd like to see next" or "Here's what I'm already learning in my usage", or "This is a no for me, and here's why. Here's what you're missing. Here's why I'm not willing to plug into this or wait for you to bring this along or anything else." We need to hit that at this point because we've been coding long enough... I don't wanna go further. Yeah.

0:41:18.1 DS: It does make me wonder a little bit, and I'm sure you've thought of, This is your communication to that first batch of customers and being really... Lots of reminders about what's coming. You're getting in early, and we're gonna grandfather you in, and this is all the stuff that we're building, and it's gonna just keep getting better and trying to keep that excitement brewing for them.

0:41:39.9 AW: Yep. Yeah. I know how important that is. I feel like that's something that we settled into and did really well at GatherUp, like we would be teasing features two or three months out. The minute we had a visual on what the future was gonna look like, we were telling people like, "Hey, this is coming and here's why we're building it." right? And helping them understand strategically how we're looking at things, and it was helpful in so many ways.

0:42:10.9 AW: The hard part for me with this is like, I know two things that are really big fast follow. The minute we launch, literally, we will celebrate for an hour and then be like, and now we gotta get to these two things. Our mobile apps being one of them, and so I'll be able to promote those two things like, "Hey, we're heads down working on these." As they take shape, I wanna get it to a point where I can give a good firm date that we'll be able to hit for people so that they're not disappointed, but I also know who knows what the priorities will have to be reset when I have...

0:42:50.7 AW: The hopeful is we have 20, 50, 100 users within weeks, and then they're telling us what's missing or what would make their life really easy, and then we have to figure how much do we work on those things versus on these big pieces that will open up more so, Oh, it's about to get interesting.

0:43:06.7 DS: It's gonna be good. We have lots to talk about on the podcast.

0:43:10.8 AW: But that's just all the reason more why... You just can't go any further, and I think every founder Pride has this. I definitely have this struggle. A minimal viable product is just so hard for me. So hard for me.

0:43:30.2 DS: Yeah, me too. And that's actually, it's one of the things I realize has held us back because you could keep perfecting something for a really long time before you ever launch it. That's... Back to our topic, that's prioritizing. What is the priority? What needs to get done that's gonna create revenue growth in your company. That's really what it all comes down to you.

0:43:52.8 AW: Yep, absolutely. So I'm gonna keep focusing on my priority of launching, and hopefully the dev team can prioritize my feature and get it in there. If not, we're gonna... The priority is gonna be time and we're just... We're not gonna stretch any further without getting... I don't know what term to use, credible feedback, just real feedback instead of... Like I said, pilot customers and testers and friends are nice, but they're just... They don't look at as critical as those paying for it and using it within their business process. That's who you need to be listening to.

0:44:30.3 DS: That makes sense. I liked your comment about drawing a line in the sand. It's like, "We would love to have this feature, but here's the line, if we're not gonna have it, then we're not gonna have it."

0:44:43.1 AW: And in a perfect world, your team gets that and understands it, right? If you communicate that far enough up front, what you would hope for out of your team is they're planning and preparing, and knowing that there's a deadline that's far enough out where they can make decisions, do their own prioritizing and figure out those things. Also, even having pride of the work like, "Hey, we don't wanna launch without this." So I think there's some smart things that can be done when you're transparent with your team with that and helping them understand prioritization and why you're prioritizing things that way. Again, that's an area where I really grew at GatherUp in just being very intentional in communicating with the team and letting them know, "Here's the order we're gonna build the features in, and here's why. Here's why it matters to our business or fits in with our vision." and allow them to support it and then make their prioritization and their decisions against it, and I think that's a really freeing thing for your team.

0:45:41.7 DS: Yeah. I think it's an area of personal growth for me. That's something I can get a bit better at 'cause I don't really have deadlines defined, and I have been notorious for not defining them, but that also comes back to scoping out our projects really well, so having them really well-scoped, defining these sprints, defining these timelines, that's something that I gotta get better at.

0:46:03.9 AW: No. Always something to get better at.

0:46:04.0 DS: Yeah, definitely. Whatever.

0:46:06.5 AW: Alright. Should we wrap it up? 

0:46:09.1 DS: We should wrap it up. We did it in 45 minutes.

0:46:12.6 AW: Hey, that's a win. We always discuss if we can go shorter, we try not to get longer, but as I told you, no one's ever complained, no one's ever written us and said, "Hey, this is too long, I just... I can't handle it." 

0:46:26.7 DS: Sure. Alright, well, any listeners, if you have any complaints, let us know.

0:46:30.1 AW: Yes, or if you have praise, let us know too. It's just always nice to know, it's just not Darren talking or topic ideas we get every now and then, questions you want answered, we'd love to hear from listeners so...

0:46:42.9 AW: Alright, Darren. Well, I hope you have a fabulous time enjoying some summer and...

0:46:52.4 DS: Yeah. Thanks. Same to you.

0:46:54.4 AW: Hopefully. I know you have your second vaccination shot up and coming, and that helps return a few more spices of life and socialization and those things that have been hard to come by.

0:47:06.9 DS: For sure. Yeah, I look forward to that. That lifestyle that you're getting into now. Go for a trip.

0:47:11.6 AW: It feels kind of good.

0:47:15.0 DS: I know. It sounds good.

0:47:17.0 AW: Oh, to be normal.

0:47:18.4 DS: Yeah. Totally.

0:47:19.0 AW: Alright. Well, have a good one, Darren, and thanks everybody. And we'll see you on the next episode.

0:47:23.8 DS: Thank you, everybody.

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Creators and Guests

Aaron Weiche
Aaron Weiche
I'm the Co-founder and CEO of Leadferno, a business messaging app. Leadferno creates delightful connections at speed through SMS and messaging platforms centralized in one app to close more leads faster. I designed my first website in 1998 and never looked back. I have co-founded and been in executive roles in multiple digital marketing agencies and SaaS companies. I speak frequenty at conferences of all types on digital marketing, customer experience, mobile and local SEO. I'm part of Local University and a founding board member of MnSearch. Outside of work I'm a sports fan, love Nebraska college football, Minnesota Twins baseball, snowboarding, boating, BBQ and anything with my 4 kids and amazing wife. I live to the west of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Darren Shaw
Darren Shaw
I'm the founder and president of Whitespark, a local search company with software and services that help businesses improve their rankings in Google. I started developing websites back in 1996 during my first year of university. I failed plenty of courses because I was skipping class to work on my HTML, CSS, and Javascript projects in the lab. Fortunately, people wanted to pay me to build websites, and in 2005 I started Whitespark as a web design and development company. In 2010 we stopped doing web development projects so we could focus on local search, and we launched our first SaaS software, the Local Citation Finder. We now offer multiple SaaS applications and services. When I'm not speaking at conferences, researching the latest in local search, or designing the next best local search application, I like to spend time travelling, skiiing, and dining with my wife and daughter in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
29: Prioritize or Die
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